Movies In Focus

Let’s Talk About The Latest STAR WARS Trilogy (2015-2019)

It was never going to be easy. Following up the original Star Wars trilogy was a difficult task for its creator George Lucas and his prequel trilogy was met with a lot of criticism and backlash. Star Wars fans have long been strong in their opinions and beliefs on how these stories should be told and having to meet these expectations is almost impossible. For J.J. Abrams it was an even more daunting task with Star Wars: The Force Awakens, because he was following on the story of The Return Of The Jedi, continuing a beloved story with a lot of the same elements and cast. However, Abrams (along with co-writers Lawrence Kasdan and Michael Ardnt) have achieved the impossible – they’ve delivered a fantastic Star Wars movie, one that’s up there with George Lucas’ original trilogy. It may not be as good as A New Hope or The Empire Strikes Back, but it might just tie (fighter) with The Return Of The Jedi.

The Force Awakens uses 1977’s a A New Hope in terms of story template, a young scavenger Rey (Daisy Ridley) yearns for something more on a desert planet (Jakku) when a droid (BB8) with a hidden message rolls into her life. BB8 is no ordinary droid, as he contains a map to the location of missing Jedi Knight Luke Skywalker. A.W.O.L Stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega) smashes into her life, chased by members of the evil First Order. Finn has been tasked by BB8’s owner, Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) to find the little droid and take it to the Resistance leaders. The pair escape Jakku in everybody’s favourite piece of hunk-a-junk, The Millennium Falcon, but it’s not just the First Order who are looking for The Falcon, the ship’s true owner Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and his trusty co-pilot Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) have also been searching for the ship. Knowing the importance of Rey and Finn’s quest, Solo takes the pair under his wing and helps them on their quest.

On the surface you could argue that The Force Awakens is a cynical piece of Hollywood franchise moviemaking, but the film has so much heart and honesty at its core, that you can’t help but love it. It’s steeped in the same sense of fun and adventure that made fans fall in love with George Lucas’ original films. Abrams has made the perfect continuation of Lucas’ Skywalker saga and he hits the right beats and refrains, echoing many of Lucas’ themes, while also moving the story forward. The centre of the movie is Harrison Ford’s Han Solo and he delivers everything you want from the crusty space pirate. Ford might be over 70, but his movie star quality shines as bright as it did back in 1977. It’s great to see Solo at a different stage in his life, the character had little to do in The Return Of The Jedi but he’s an integral part of the story here and Ford has great fun playing an older Solo who is as roguish and reckless as his younger counterpart. Whoever they get to play the character in the Han Solo prequel movie has a lot to live up to.

Daisy Ridley and John Boyega are a great addition to the Star Wars galaxy. They share great chemistry with Harrison Ford and they deliver in the emotional and the action stakes. This new trilogy is their story and they make another two films a very appealing prospect. Also impressing is Oscar Isaac’s Poe Dameron – but it’s a shame that he isn’t given more to do.. Speaking of under-utilised characters, Carrie Fisher’s Leia also has little to do in this instalment. 

The Star Wars franchise has alway been about the villains and The Force Awakens is no different. Darth Vader is the benchmark for how all movie villains are compared and Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren is a worthy successor. Ren is obsessed with the legacy of Darth Vader and he’s driven in his quest to discover Luke Skywalker. He’s a complex character and Driver brings a lot of shades to him. I’m not too sure about Andy Serkis’ Supreme Leader Snoke and his motion capture leanings but that’s a small niggle about (at this stage) a minor character. As for Mark Hamill’s Luke Skywalker – you’ll just have to see the movie.

On a visual and technical level, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a marvel. Abrams has pulled together the best in the business to deliver a stunning looking and sounding movie. Lucas’s original film effectively created the special effects driven blockbuster and The Force Awakens has the same feel and texture as the dusty world that Lucas delivered back in 1977. Forget the digital sheen of the prequels, this is the same lived-in galaxy that fans adored. That’s not to say that the prequels are ignored, as there are a few slight visual call-backs to those movies.

The score of the Star Wars movies have been an integral part of the saga’s success and John Williams once again composes. It’s yet another stunning score and I would hate to be the composer who takes over the series if and when Williams decides to put down the baton (although sure Michael Giacchino is the next logical step).

J.J. Abrams has crafted a movie that continues a beloved story and that introduces a lot of impressive new elements. At its worst, The Force Awakens could have been awkward fan-service but Abrams and company managed to avoid that to deliver a stunning modern day blockbuster that will appeal to a mass audience.

Rian Johnson’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi manages to be both brilliant and terrible at the same time, a mix of classic mythos and insipid story telling. The opening action sequence featuring Oscar Isaac’s Poe Dameron is stunning, a wonderfully presented piece of intergalactic battle, illustrating that Isaac’s Dameron is the heir to Han Solo’s laid back heroics. We cut back to the finale of The Force Awakens, where Luke Skywalker takes his lightsaber from Rey and quickly tosses it over his shoulder. Like Luke says: ’This isn’t going to go the way you think’.

Skywalker is to The Last Jedi what Yoda was to The Empire Strike Back – a quirky loner who doesn’t want to train a young apprentice eager to use the Force. Hamill gets to deliver a lot of great work here, hitting comedic and dramatic notes with ease. I would happily sit and watch a movie about Skywalker’s lonesome existence (Space Survivor, anyone?)

Away from Ach-To, the Resistance fleet is on its knees, running out of fuel and pursued by The First Order and the dastardly trio of Snoke (Andy Serkis), Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson). It would seem that the plan for Laura Dern’s Vice Admiral Holdo is to keep on running – something Poe Dameron doesn’t do. He sends John Boyega’s Finn on a mission to sneak onto Snoke’s ship and decommission a tracking device so they can make the jump to light-speed and lose their pursuers.

It’s Finn’s mission which takes the film off on a diversion where it didn’t really need to go. Finn is joined by Kelly Marie Tran’s Rose Tico, a plucky mechanic wanting to fight the good fight against the First Order. Together the duo visit a Monte Carlo type world (freeing space Llamas in the process) before hooking-up with Benicio Del Toro’s mysterious criminal. There’s a lot of comedic hijinks involved in all of this which George Lucas would have excised from the first draft of anything he ever wrote.

Rey and Kylo are also having some force-fulled telepathic conversations – you know the type: ‘I know there’s good in you’, ‘You will turn to the dark-side’, ‘Join me’ etc. Most of this works and there’s some nice stuff aboard Snoke’s ship (shade of Return of The Jedi) which really works, but sadly an editing fumble means that the pay-off doesn’t ring-true. In a film with a lot of extraneous scenes it feels like a disappointment when we don’t get to see how Rey escapes, covering up a silly line like ‘She stole Snoke’s shuttle’’. Speaking of Snoke, he’s offered very little back story and the character isn’t really developed further that he was back in Episode VII.

Hamill’s Luke Skywalker is the highlight of The Last Jedi, anchoring the film in the same way that Harrison Ford steadied The Force Awakens. The late Carrie Fisher is given more to do in this second episode of this trilogy but there’s a moment in the film which could have been used as her swan-song. This wouldn’t have had much of an impact on the main thrust of the story and it would been a powerful way to have her exit the franchise.

John Boyega, one of the highlights of the last movie is given a pointless plot thread that really has nothing to do other than keep ILM busy and Isaac’s cocky flyboy is grounded for most of the movie, booking the movie with his piloting skills. As a character, it feels that Ridley’s Rey is spinning her wheels a bit. She gets some good moments with Adam Drive Kylo Ren (a great villain) but ultimately it feels like she spends every other scene being drawn to the dark side/light side of the force.

There’s more humour in The Last Jedi than previous Star Wars movies; some of it hits, some of it doesn’t. The much publicised Porgs work for a moment or two, but they outstay their welcome. The film drew to a halt too many times to show-odd cute creatures. I didn’t care for the crystal wolves during the climatic battle and the aforementioned space Llamas feel like they belong in a Disney movie (wait, this is a Disney movie!)

The Last Jedi has some great moments (some of the best in the series) but it also has some of the worst. Rian Johnson commits many of the same crimes that George Lucas did with his prequel movies (plot diversions, silly humour, CGI creatures) but Lucas handled it much better. At 2 1/2 hours, Star Wars: The Last Jedi could have been tightened-up in the editing room, cutting out that bloated middle section and removing things like Maz Kanata’s cameo and the cute slave kids which feel like they dropped in from a totally different movie. When it works, it really works but when it doesn’t, it feels like bad fan-fiction with a $200 million budget.

 

The latest trilogy of Star Wars films and the Skywalker saga comes to a close with J.J. AbramsStar Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. It’s the conclusion of a nine film journey, one that has been littered with everything from cinema changing moments to hugely divisive plotting and characterisation. In 2015 Abrams picked-up George Lucas’ discarded lightsaber and delivered the spirited and energetic The Force Awakens, a film which brought Star Wars to a whole new generation, whilst also keeping old fans happy. Rian Johnson’s 2017 instalment The Last Jedi was a disappointing entry which split fans and caused a serious disturbance in The Force.

Now Abrams is back with The Rise Of Skywalker, a Star Wars film which should give Star Wars fans everything they could hope for and more. It’s packed with call-backs to the eight films which have gone before, echoing and repeating lines images and moments. It never feels like fan service though – more like a love letter to everything George Lucas created over the decades. To quote Lucas himself, ‘It’s like poetry, it rhymes’.

The dead speak! Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) is alive and he built a secret super army called The Final Order which is set to destroy Carrie Fisher’s General Leia and The Resistance. For nefarious reasons he also wants Daisy Ridley’s Jedi protege Rey and Kylo Ren onboard as an ally, and it looks like he’s going to get his wish. Meanwhile Rey, Finn (John Boyega), Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) are on their own mission to track down The Emperor’s location in an attempt to thwart his plan for galaxy domination. 

J.J. Abrams and co-writer Chris Terrio have ditched many of The Last Jedi’s more controversial aspects and decided to deliver what Star Wars does best by focusing on lightsaber fights, space battles and rip-roaring adventure. Yes, it’s a little over-stuffed and there’s enough going on to fill two films, but this delivers in a big, big way. 

It’s great to see Rey, Finn and Poe finally creating the trifecta of friends which mirrors that of Han, Luke and Leia and the trio share an easy chemistry between the set pieces. However, its Adam Driver who delivers the best work, as the man still trying to decide if he’s really Kylo Ren or Ben Solo. He’s got a lot to work with here on both a dramatic and physical level – this is what Hayden Christensen’s Anakin Skywalker should have been in Lucas’ prequel trilogy. 

The new generation of actors are great, but it’s wonderful to see old faces return for one final time. Mark Hamill’s Luke Skywalker is now a sage Force Ghost delivering advice to Rey much like he received from Obi Wan Kenobi. Billy Dee Williams is back as everyone’s favourite smooth-talking scoundrel Lando Calrissian and seeing him again behind the controls of the Millennium Falcon is the thing of childhood dreams. The Rise Of Skywalker is also Carrie Fisher’s final performance as Leia and it’s a fitting send-off for the actress and her iconic character. The performance may be created from editing room cast-offs, but it never feels that way. There’s a reverence in the way that Abrams has crafted Fisher’s character and performance and it feels organic to the movie and its plot. 

On a technical level, The Rise Of Skywalker is a marvel. The special effects and design are next level great, perfectly building on everything which has gone before. It looks and feels like Star Wars at its best and there’s a real tangibility due to some impressive sets and practical effects. Speaking of Star Wars at it’s best, these films wouldn’t be half as good if it wasn’t for John Williams’ music and the 87 year-old has delivered a sumptuous score which includes some old themes and some beautifully new ones. 

For over 40 years the cinematic battle between The Jedi and The Sith has rumbled on. George Lucas changed the course of cinematic (and blew the minds of audiences) when he opened the first Star Wars film with a tiny blockade runner being chased by a mammoth, Star Destroyer. The Rise Of Skywalker is the perfect ending to this. There will be those who adore it for how it connects to the larger Star Wars mythos and the movies which have gone before and there will be those who don’t see it as being progressive enough in what it delivers. These film’s have always based on old serials (the episodic nature is even in their titles), so you can’t complain too much when they skip from one adventure to the next in quick succession. 

A ridiculously fun and energetic cinematic adventure, Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker is everything a true fan of George Lucas’ intergalactic saga wants. There’s humour, emotion and some real of depth as characters old and new bring their stories to a close. This isn’t just a great movie. This is Star Wars. 

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